Western Maine’s Ambassador of Art



PROFILE-May 2010

by Suzette McAvoy
Photography Irvin Serrano

John Day leads the new Pace Galleries at Fryeburg Academy

The care and preservation of art is a wondrous burden,” says John Day. And he should know. At his home in Yarmouth, Day lives alongside more than a thousand works of art in his personal collection.

He also recently took on the task of directing the new Palmina F. and Stephen S. Pace Galleries of Art at Fryeburg Academy, where he not only oversees the exhibition schedule but has taken on the daunting task of assembling a permanent collection.

“When I think of where we started and where we are going in just one year, I am astounded,” Day says. The convivial collector is a natural ambassador for artistic expression in a region of the state that has not, until now, had a venue for fine art. “We are the only art museum in Western Maine, and already the Galleries have become a focal point of the community, and also somewhat of an economic engine. The turnout for receptions is really quite extraordinary. People are beginning to make it a destination.”

Day is a native of Kezar Falls and an alumnus of Fryeburg Academy. For more than twenty-five years, until his retirement in 2008, he taught humanities and art history at Greely High School in Cumberland. An entertaining raconteur as well as a serious scholar, Day so clearly enjoys sharing his passion for art that his students must have equally enjoyed his teaching. “History never made sense to me until I could attach it to something,” he says, “and in my case I attached it to art. Viewing history through the lens of art just made sense to me.”
He became interested in art at the age of 10, when his paternal grandmother “decided it was time that I went to the Portland Museum of Art and got culture,” he recalls. “Right then and there, I knew I wanted to collect art.” In 1976, with his “very first paycheck” from teaching, he bought his first painting—a Harrison Bird Brown landscape of the Saco River—and became “hooked on art collecting.”_MG_0212

“I come from a long line of Yankees who have been collecting for centuries and they rarely dispose of anything, so having ‘stuff’ hanging around seemed natural to me,” Day says, as he glances around the art-filled living room of his town house in Yarmouth. Seemingly every square inch displays a painting or sculpture from his vast collection, which is focused on the art of Monhegan Island between 1940 and 1970. Works by Reuben Tam, Michael Loew, Alex Minewski, James Fitzgerald, Ted Davis, Frances Kornbluth, and many, many others adorn the walls of every room.

Initially, Day intended to collect a broader array of Maine art—“from Berenice Abbott to William Zorach”—but the magnitude of the task, and the realities of his pocketbook, soon refined his interests. “I believe that the edifice of art scholarship is built not only with great collections that create sweeping visions of periods and schools,” he says, “but also by studying small movements or isolated colonies of artists.”

Several of the artists whose works he has collected over the years have become close personal friends, including Stephen Pace, a noted New York painter who, with his wife, Pam, has been a longtime summer resident of Maine. “Stephen is one of the iconic painters of Maine,” says Day. “He spent a lifetime capturing the life of the Maine coast in his art. Unfortunately, so many Maine works have left the state, but here, at Fryeburg, was our chance to preserve one artist for Maine.”

In 2005 a fire destroyed Fryeburg Academy’s gymnasium, and the school resolved to both rebuild the athletic facility and add a state-of-the-art performing-arts center to the campus. Day, who served on the design and development committees, suggested that the school also consider adding art galleries; soon after, he brought on the Paces as benefactors. In addition to funding the galleries that are named in their honor, the Paces have donated twenty of Stephen’s paintings to form the core of a permanent collection.

Located within the Leura Hill Eastman Performing Arts Center, the Pace Galleries were dedicated in January 2009 and make an elegant setting for the display and exhibition of art. The three large galleries have 14-foot ceilings and offer about 1,200 square feet of exhibition space. Designed by architect Mark Lee of Harriman Associates in Auburn, the galleries were built to the highest museum standards, including 24-hour security and climate control. A behind-the-scenes storage vault, office, and workroom complete the facilities.

“Originally we were going to present three shows a year,” says Day, “but they have proven so popular that we have already expanded to four.” In the planning stages are exhibitions on photography, art conservation, stage and costume design, and possibly even custom motorcycles. “We have the opportunity to show the work of new artists or art styles that generally are not seen in this region. I want to explore all kinds of shows and to bring all kinds of people in,” he says.

_MG_0121Day is justifiably proud of the Pace Galleries and clearly relishes his role as director, a position that he agreed to take only if he could do so as a volunteer. “It is my way of paying back to the institution. Others are in a position to give money; what I can do is give my time.” Considering the future and the many possibilities for his new venture, when asked what lies ahead Day replies without hesitation, “Years of happiness.”

John Day: FryEburg Academy, fryeburgacademy.org

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